Peter Jackson: Good Master or False, Tricksey Hobbit?

Russell Bateman
21 December 2002

Like millions of other Tolkien fans, I bought a DVD copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in August on the very day it appeared and then again the extended DVD set in November. Like millions of other Tolkien fans, I was among the very first, in my case 6h30 in the morning for an 8h30 showing, to see The Two Towers. I found the cinematography extraordinary, the special effects nigh-seamless and totally compelling, the script pretty good (I'm not qualified to say much about that) and the acting perfect (maybe I'm too easy to please, but I am never deterred by any of the actors).

However, I am gravely disappointed in the accuracy. Don't get me wrong, Peter Jackson isn't butchering the story to the extent that Tom Clancy's Sum of All Fears was mangled then destroyed, but Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings are like religion and scripture: You wouldn't expect a movie based on the New Testament to portray Jesus as a spoiled little brat playing supernatural tricks on his playmates to get his own way.

Getting over The Fellowship of the Ring

It took me a few months to get over my "anal-retentive" disappointment with the accuracy of the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. I finally got up the courage to give Peter Jackson the same latitude Michael Crichton asks for in the surrounding documentation to his novel, the erstwhile Eaters of the Dead which is now dubbed The 13th Warrior. Crighton gives the original idea for his novel as being a challenge by a colleague to write a story of an ancient, epic event retold in story, song and legend, in this case, Beowulf, through the eyes of a more modern observer such as journalist. So, he chose the chronicler, Ahmed ibn Fahdlan ibn Alabas ibn Rachid ibn Hamad, an Arab diplomate, to follow the warrior Buliwyf on the exploits recounted by the Old English poem.

I also up-braided myself for not giving Peter Jackson the leeway to do what cinematographers must do to gather sufficient audience to enable them to pay for their films.

And I had to admit that my criticism born of the geekishness that being an engineer creates in me needed some stifling.

So, I forgave Peter for turning Saruman into a less unwitting and more collaborating servant of Sauron and for giving Galadriel more lust for the Ring. I forgave him for substituting Arwen for Glorfindel at the ford before Imladris. And when the fellowship looks with disquiet to what would be the eastern shore as they descend Anduin instead of the western shore where the Uruk-Hai, unseen but clearly perceived by at least Legolas, were running to intercept the Fellowship, I wince and imagine that somebody flipped the negatives over before printing. Fortunately, they do land on the western shore at Amon Hen.

Ugh! Trouble in The Two Towers

As disappointing as it was to have Jackson completely misrepresent the subtle nuances in the relationship between Saruman and Sauron, as disappointing as it was to see him throwing Aragorn into a state of self-doubt, it was crushing to catch him in the act of libel against the family of the Gondor stewards, by destroying the otherwise spotless character of Faramir, brother to Boromir and the one true hope of Gondor. This family is already in trouble by the treasonous act of Boromir attempting to force the Ring from Frodo and soon, in the third movie as in the third book, by the moral squalor into which the father, Lord Denethor, has descended as a result of thinking himself, as did Saruman, wise enough to struggle with Sauron through yet another Palantir.

And it was disappointing to see the script writer induce Frodo to utter despair as early as the Faramir captivity and Osgiliath, the one greatly over-stepping Tokien and the other, as I say, an element of impossible fiction that would have eroded yet two or three more days off the Ring Bearer's schedule for it is some 9 or 10 leagues (30 miles) from the crossroads to Osgiliath and even farther from Henneth Annûn, the waterfall-veiled cave of hiding in Ithilian. Frodo's state of mind as portrayed by Jackson in the second movie leaves little room now to paint the wearing away of the Ring Bearer that really begins in earnest after Shelob's lair, a key episode in the second book which Jackson appears to have relegated to the third film. Frodo's near-capture by the Nazgul on the Osgiliath bridge was an unfortunate reinterpretation of the hero's recorded exposure to the Captain of the Nine on the stairs to Cirith Ungol that impoverished the more psychological aspects of Ring possession as portrayed by the books. The third movie is destined in my way of imagining, to be 4 hours long even leaving out the crucial episode of the "Cleansing of the Shire." (Objection overruled, Mr. Jackson, for you opened the door to this line of criticism by clearly portraying the destruction of the Shire in Galadriel's mirror even if you let Frodo, instead of Samwise, be the one to see it. You should have left the Shire out of it. And I'm tearful at the thought of not seeing the Shire cleansed, Rosie and Sam married and with elf-like children and, finally, seeing all the heros and heroines make their way to Grey Havens to sail west.)

To complete the insult to the Family of the Stewards of Gondor, Jackson allowed the same actor to be cast as Faramir who played the vain and perfidious Isildur in the prolog of the first movie. I will be delighted to serve the Steward family in the role of witness as it brings its suit of libel against Peter Jackson over this matter. Does this tricksey hobbit just not believe in the race of men or has he been overcome by the negativety of Mordor and is unable to admit or grant absolute virtue and integrity to any man in his production? If he were making this up himself, we could forgive him, but allow Tolkien a little more unquestioned supremacy in the definition of these characters, please!

I'm not a misogenist; I generally like watching most chic-flicks with my wife. I understand then that, to retain the feminine audience and attract yet more women fans to this epic production, Peter Jackson needed to invent relationships almost unaided by Tolkien whose neglect of women in his books make religious scripture seem modern by comparison. I was relieved that he didn't go too far in suggesting an untoward relationship between Aragorn and Eowyn. I am puzzled by the Elrond-Arwen-Aragorn triangle of love and the feigned flight to Valinor. "Poppycock" as my old Gaffer would say and, as everyone knows, any anxious conversations between Arwen and her father on the subject ended long ago so, as far as we know, she didn't ever start on the road to the Grey Havens let alone during the events of the War of the Ring. What? "He's not coming back" —a big Entish "Humpf!" to that. So Aragorn's line to Eowyn about Arwen fleeing Middle Earth is ludicrous and out of character. Why can't Peter do something with Eowyn and Faramir in the third movie if he feels he must Titannicize LOTR to grab the teeney bopper set? And, hey, Sam and Rose would have made far more fertile ground for this sort of thing because their commitments were always unspoken and vague.

Insurmountable these and other objections in the second movie seem to me now and yet I dearly hope that I am able to come to grips with them by Fall and the release of the DVDs for otherwise, there will be a not-so-sublte-spasm in my remote control finger on the skip button when Frodo, Sam and Sméagol (the only name in the films I have ever found, incidentally, to be mispronounced*) reach the road south on their path to Cirith Ungol and entry to Mordor by another way.

On the up-side...

After such scathing criticim, let me not leave this on a wholly negative note. The portrayal of Sméagol-Gollum was so good, it answered points I have been struggling with myself since my first reading of the story 25 years ago. The "gollum, gollum" was executed far better and in less stilted fashion than I have ever been able to imagine it myself. Except that the figure is several times referred to as "black" and "dark" in Tolkien (which I have always imputed to his character and not necessarily his physical appearance), its execution in the film is possibly the most praiseworthy achievement in LOTR computer graphics and that is no small consideration given that CG is spectacular and nigh flawless throughout the two films so far, effectively tearing the honor of home to the best computer graphics away from Mill Valley (home of Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic) and bestowing it upon that tiny backwater, New Zealand. Bravo, ladies and gentlemen of Weta Digital, bravo!

And Peter Jackson? Let's get back to basics. Make this not only a good source of income, but the definitive video record of Toklien's Lord of the Rings.

*Indeed, from Appendix E at the end of The Return of the King, "Writing and Spelling, I, Pronunciation of Words and Names," under the discussion on vowels, we read Tolkien's own idea of the pronunciation rules governing what is and what isn't a diphthong and, therefore, the pronunciation of Sméagol:

	"In Quenya ui, oi, ai and iu, eu, au are diphthongs (that is,
	pronounced in one syllable). All other pairs of vowels are
	dissyllabic [meaning, pronounced separately as two syllables].
	This is often indicated by writing ëa (Ëa), ëo, .

	"In Sindarin the diphthongs are written ae, ai, ei, oe, ui,
	and au. Other combinations are not diphthongal. ..."

In other words, in both major elven language systems, all vowel combinations not listed, including ea (and éa—the accent, Tokien tells us, merely indicates a long vowel) are not diphthongs and, therefore, cannot be construed as one syllable. In the case at hand, é and a must be pronounced as separate syllables. Thus, /smay a' gol/ or /smee a' gol/ depending on your penchant to anglicize the vowel e into an /ee/ sound. (a' is the stressed syllable and it is pronounced like the a in English at.)

The point of this little dissertation is to prove the assertion that, Sméagol does not rhyme with English beagle (the breed of dog) no matter how in-grained it has become in anyone's throat to say it that way. Incidentally, the name of Sméagol's cousin, Déagol, from whom the young Gollum stole the Ring and whom he murdered to conceal the theft, is obviously affected by this discussion.